Prince wrote this song for his movie Purple Rain. In the film, the song plays under a montage after his character loses his girl (Apollonia) to his rival (Morris - Morris Day of The Time). We see Prince riding his motorcycle along with shots of intimate moments with Apollonia. In the movie, Prince has a difficult relationship with his father, who beats his mom. Scenes of his father come in on the lyrics where Prince calls him "demanding."
The film is semi-autobiographical, but how much is based on real life remains a mystery, as Prince rarely gave interviews and didn't talk about his personal life. In the movie, the song expresses his fear of becoming like his parents. When the doves cry, that's his musical refuge - the barrage of keyboards in the chorus represents the doves crying.
Besides writing and composing the track, Prince played all the instruments on the song.
There is no bass on this song. Prince took out the bass track at the last minute to get a different sound, though he hated to see it go.
"Sometimes your brain kind of splits in two - your ego tells you one thing, and the rest of you says something else. You have to go with what you know is right," he told Bass Player magazine.
In the US, this was the #1 song of 1984. It topped the charts for five weeks over the summer, and kept Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark
" at #2, preventing The Boss from ever having a #1 hit.
Springsteen was a huge fan of Prince. "Whenever I would catch one of his shows, I would always leave humbled," he said in dedicating his April 23, 2016 concert to the recently deceased superstar.
Remarkably, this is the only song with a kind of bird in the title to reach #1 on the Hot 100. "Rockin' Robin" - both the Bobby Day original
and Michael Jackson cover
- stalled at #2. "Fly Like An Eagle
" by the Steve Miller Band also topped out at #2.
The novelty song "Disco Duck
" by Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots hit #1 in 1976, but "duck" does not refer to a specific species.
MC Hammer sampled this on his 1990 song "Pray," which was his last hit before dropping the "MC" and piling up mounds of debt as his lifestyle could not keep up with his cash flow.
Patti Smith recorded this for her 2002 retrospective album, Land 1975-2002. Her version was featured in the 2003 film Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Other notable covers are from Razorlight and Damien Rice.
A version of this is sung by the choir in the 1996 film Romeo and Juliet
. The movie was directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge
), and starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
Although there is no bass in this song and the percussion part is played entirely by drum machine, Prince's drummer and bassist from his band The Revolution still appear in the video, playing along (silently) on their instruments.
In 1997 Ginuwine released his remake of this song on his Ginuwine... The Bachelor album, adding some new beats to the sound. His version hit #10 in the UK. It was not, however, a hit with Prince. The singer encouraged people to make their own music instead of covering someone else's songs, and he took offense to Ginuwine messing with the lyrics.
"I was just busting on him to bust him, but I was a little serious: Have some respect, man. If anyone tried to cover 'Respect,' by Aretha? I would shoot them myself!" Prince told Entertainment Weekly.
Peggy McCreary, Prince's engineer on this song, told Billboard about the day it was recorded and the singer's confidence that it would become a hit: "[Prince] took the bass out and he said, 'There's nobody that's going to have the guts to do this.' And he was smiling from ear to ear. He felt this was the best and he knew he had a hit song... so he decided to do something really daring. That's what Prince was all about."
McCreary also recalled Prince's exhausting recording process: "He would run through [a song] with just a piano and a vocal. And sometimes he'd do the drums and then the bass... The room was always set up and you had to be ready to do whatever he felt like doing. It was real spontaneous. You had to be there with him, which was the hard part and the exciting part. But when you're exhausted, it's hard to be excited. It was the longest I ever worked with anybody in my life. I worked around the clock, 24 hours. He said sometimes the only reason he went home was so I could sleep."
Prince's Paisley Park complex where he lived in Minneapolis was shrouded in secrecy, but visitors reported that he kept doves, and that they could get quite loud. Entertainment Weekly reporter Leah Greenblatt wrote: "Yes, he keeps doves. Yes, they cry."
Degrassi: The Next Generation, which had a long tradition of naming episodes after '80s and '90s hits, used this song for a child abuse-themed episode involving Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) and his dad (Hugh Dillon) in 2002.
After Prince changed his name to a symbol in 1993, a guitar maker named Ferdinand Pickett claimed that he designed a guitar based on that symbol, and that Prince stole the idea for his custom guitars. Pickett sued Prince in 1994, and the case dragged out until 1999, when it was finally dismissed. In the ruling, the judge had a little fun with it, invoking this song in the opinion:
"In a case that has spanned five years, two judges, numerous counsel, and lengthy discovery proceedings; has spawned multiple motions and published orders; and has at last teetered to the brink of trial, the parties debate over the use of the Symbol that has come to identify Defendant, the Artist formerly known as Prince. Indeed, Defendant may as well have had this protracted litigation in mind when he lyrically asked: "Why do we scream at each other. This is what it sounds like. When doves cry."